Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Of Course It Was In The Onion

“I’ve got to stop being such a loser,” my daughter, then a precocious 7-year old wailed.

Alarmed, I few into motherly action. “You are NOT a loser. Who told you that?” I demanded, doubtless scrambling to gather my pitchfork and torch in anticipation of paying a midnight visit to the offender.

“Mom, I lose things all the time,” my precocious child answered matter-of-factly. “I AM a loser.”

True, we were on the tail end of an episode focusing on the recovery of a shoe, a handbook, and possibly a patch-adorned vest so she could attend her weekly AWANA club meeting. And, I was forced to concede, many of our waking hours were invested in response to All Points Bulletins for runaway papers, borrowed literature, and stray accessories.

Many years have passed and my daughter has blossomed into a beautiful young woman. She’s a smart, witty, up-and-coming baker making plans for culinary school and—you guessed it, she’s still a loser. Which is why I wasn’t surprised in the least when she came downstairs a few mornings ago, shuffling through stacks of dining room detritus, sighing heavily.

“Have you seen my red folder with the chef’s hat logo?” The Baker asked, casually.

I hadn’t, at least not in the three weeks that had passed since we received the folder during a visit to the Culinary Institution behind the chef’s hat logo. I told her as much, and went back to my work, figuring it would all pass.

Rather than passing, the search intensified. Couches were overturned. Bookcases were scoured. There was talk of some sort of deadline. And my usually stoic daughter’s demeanor was crumbling faster than a shortcake cookie in a toddler’s fist.

It seems the red chef-logo folder contained The Only Existing Copy of her only reference letter, and Someone at the School of the Red Chef Logo was waiting for it with the kind of expectation typically reserved for a sheet of chocolate chip cookies about to pop out of a hot oven.

Now, we all know that once a Missing Item has been out there for more than hour, it’s assumed rubbish; clearly, it’s been thrown away. No matter how unlikely, it’s our Universal Go-to Explanation for All Things Lost. Why, we once had a queen sized blue striped sheet go missing right from the couch where a family member was recovering from a virus, never to be seen again. We assume it’s decomposing nicely in a landfill upstate, although we’ve yet to come up with a working model for how the sheet even fit in a household trash can. But I digress. Suffice it to say, we took the search outside to recycling bin—the trash can equivalent for all pulp based products. Emptied only on a bi-weekly basis, the recycling bin represented the last bastion of hope.

“So do we just go ‘Burbs on the can?” I asked my daughter, in reference to the Tom Hanks movie we’d watched the previous evening wherein Hanks and his neighbors descended upon a garbage truck, tossing trash into the street in search of evidence verifying their suspicion that their creepy neighbors disposed of a corpse.

“Yep,” The Baker answered, tossing handfuls of paper, crushed cans, and plastic jugs onto the sidewalk.

“Not a finger, not a nose,” she mumbled, quoting a disappointed member of Hank’s empty-handed search committee.

A la the film, my daughter suggested we leave the trash on the sidewalk to compost, but we dutifully picked it up and went back indoors.

The Baker shuffled back upstairs, and I scoured my brain for any unturned baking stone. Just as I was about to declare the case as cold as a cup of vichyssoise, The Baker bounded down the stairs.

“It was in the onion!” she exulted.

I pictured the folder nestling just beneath the papery, translucent skins of a very large onion she’d ferreted away in a remote outpost of her disorganized bedroom, and I’m not ashamed to admit that for a moment this somehow made sense.

It only follows that she loses the things with which she spends the most time—and, Baker that she is, it’s not at all uncommon for us to be on Collective Watch for, well, ingredients. We’ve had lively hunts for lost ginger root, searches for wayward spices, and spent a memorable evening hot on the trail of an errant Asian pear.

Indeed, the only detail that gave me pause was just how the ridged folder managed to stay completely concealed within the layers of the spherical bulb. The Baker detected the confusion as soon as it crossed my countenance.

“Oh, not the onion, Mom, The Onion,” she clarified, referencing the witty periodical of the same name as America’s favorite pantry staple. “I picked one up at the newsstand the day we visited the school. “

Of course! That made sense, too. Sounds just like something the loser would do.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

What's Your Bag; or Thoughts on My Son's Last First day of School

I have heard it said that you can tell a lot about someone by what they carry around in their purse, and frankly, this concerns me. I once read an article by a mature and obviously organized mother/columnist delineating the changes in her purse contents and she gracefully slid through various stages of parenting. At various times, her handbag has contained pacifiers and crunchy biscuits for toddlers, wipes for nasty spills and sticky hands, amusements for young children—no doubt crayons in a specially designed humidor to prevent meltage.

I found the article unsettling, as, day or night, year in and year out no matter what the season either on the calendar or in my life, dump out the contents of any bag I own and what you’ll find can be summed up in a single word:


Receipts crumpled beyond recognition, often containing a wad of chewed gum that needed a hasty or poorly timed discarding. And, of course, tissues. Used ones, in a chaotic jumble that would seem to speak of a need for stronger allergy meds.

If, by some bizarre star alignment or sick practical joke my keys were there, you probably wouldn’t recognize the tangle of metal rings, expired plastic discount cards, and broken mini toys as a key chain anyway. But it really is, I promise. Anywhere from fifteen to twenty-five keys are jumbled somewhere in the mess, but I assure you I don’t know what most of them do. It’s sort of a museum piece that invariably confuses and fascinates elementary children.

I traveled once to Qwa-Qwa, a remote and impoverished South African village. The children were fascinated as our fleet of busses rolled into their villages. It was like a scene out of a PBS documentary ,or Survivor, throngs of excited villagers running after the busses, cheering, asking for photographs or treats.

The mere sight of American youth bearing useful and entertaining items like cameras and crayons, hats and bread was akin to Santa’s sleigh pulling into the cul de sac of your neighborhood. These children had absolutely nothing. Nothing but smiles and big hearts and …trash. The possibilities of trash as a sustainable resource were not lost on these inventive souls. Kind of like the system where the Native Americans found a use for every part of the buffalo, South African kids use every bit of their trash to create toys. Mostly crude vehicles, pull cars and the like, but very charming.

What I really should have done is dump my bag out and ask them to build me something, but I never think of cool stuff like that at the right time. I’m now a decade removed from this event, and tending these days to think about both my “bag” and my "trash” in more metaphoric terms. Oh, I’ve always known that if handbags are, indeed, tattletales of one’s inner psyche, I don’t have to delve too deeply into my old psych notes to figure out that as a collector of rubbish, I’m in grave danger of being weighed down. But lately? I’m realizing that as unfortunate as it was not to have had a genuine custom-made African garbage-toy, it will be much sadder if I don’t take a page from the African Kids’ Playbook and get to work reassembling some bits and pieces from a very different “bag—“ namely, the passions I reference collectively as my Aspirations.

See, this morning my son headed out the door on his very last first day of school. He’s my baby, and he’s a senior—a turn of events that has left me shocked, saddened, and questioning the future as I never have before. His older sister is still at home, but plans to head off to culinary school in April. And me? I simply don’t know how to live outside this big, chaotic home filled with the sound of my son’s instruments and the wafting aroma of my daughter’s baked goods. And less than two minutes after he left, it occurred to me that as the door closed in his wake, it took the summer with him. But not just any summer. The very last summer we’ll all share in this house, as a family.

Crisis descended, in proportions beyond the capabilities of even the most well-stocked bag, kit, or pouch. No one, anywhere, could simply pull a potion for this pain from a side pocket of a well-organized pouch. I trudged through this mental muck for sometime before I entertained the thought that maybe I’m the one in possession of my own cure—and it’s somewhere in a crumbling collection of half finished projects, seedling ideas, and orphaned efforts. It’s a big mess-- a tangled jumble much more easily pushed down and zipped up than dumped out in plain view.

Although I was hardly in the mood to face it, I took a peek at my metaphoric mess. And I had to admit it was wildly colorful and admittedly eclectic. Doubtless, it will take years to turn it into anything useful—I’m no African, after all. But I’ve been hauling around an amazing collection of raw materials for a very long time and perhaps it’s time to make something useful. I’ve had a good run toting trinkets about town---in both the literal and literary sense. In my cluttered clutches, I’ve always found exactly what I needed to both pacify my offspring and provoke my passions. Now that it’s almost time for my kids to see what they can make of their lives, maybe it’s time for me to create something new with mine. What I do with my detritus might just determine if I become known as the cool lady with the bag of tricks or, well, just a bag lady.

P.S. I know I announced in April that I was embarking on an adventure. I am aware that I have left you hanging (assuming that there is anyone out there to flap in the breeze). The adventure is still in progress, but I will post a long-overdue field report in an upcoming post. Stay tuned.


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